Catalogue description Secretaries of State: State Papers Foreign, Archives of British Legations

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Details of SP 105
Reference: SP 105
Title: Secretaries of State: State Papers Foreign, Archives of British Legations

Letter books and correspondence of British embassies and legations abroad mainly to the year 1796. The series includes records of the Levant Company's London-based governing body, the General Court, and its officers, including minute books of the General Court (1611 to 1706); letter books of instructions to ambassadors, consuls and other agents (1606 to 1825) and treasurer's accounts. Of the Company's diplomatic and consular missions only Constantinople, Aleppo, Smyrna and Cairo are represented.

Amongst the miscellaneous records of British envoys, agents and ambassadors are the letter books of Sir Balthasar Gerbier, minister at Brussels (1631 to 1642); correspondence of the commissioners appointed to oversee the demolition of the fortifications of Dunkirk under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht; letter books of the Secretary of State concerning peace negotiations at Utrecht (1711 to 1714); letter books of missions involved in peace negotiations with France (1698 to 1772) and missions to the Imperial Diet and states within the Holy Roman Empire.

Also included are the collections of the correspondence and papers of individual diplomats, notably Sir George Stepney (1663 to 1707) concerning his missions to German states and the Holy Roman Empire, and Sir Joseph Williamson (1633 to 1701) and Sir Leoline Jenkins (1623 to 1685) concerning their negotiations at the congresses of Cologne (1673) and Nimeguen (1676). Correspondence of the resident minister at the court of Tuscany includes dispatches from the government agent Philip von Stosch concerning the movements of the Old Pretender and the Jacobite court.

Many items are noted in the format [in the hand of Plantamour]; these were shown on the original paper listings as 'Pl' and denote that the entry is a copy in the hand of Philip Plantamour, Stepney's chief secretary and later chargé d'affaires.

Date: 1568-1871

The following pieces are itemised to folio level: 54, 58-60, 82-87 and 109.

Related material:

For letter books compiled during the embassy of Sir Robert Ainslie to the Ottoman Empire see: FO 261

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 345 volume(s)
Access conditions: Open
Custodial history: The records of the Levant Company were inherited by the Foreign Office in 1825 when the company was dissolved.
Publication note:

Levant Company out-letter books to 1670 are described in the Calendar of State Papers (Domestic Series) of the reign of Charles II, eds M A E Green, F H B Daniell and F Bickley, 28 vols (London, 1860-1947).

Administrative / biographical background:

The Levant Company was established in 1581 when its members were granted a monopoly of English trade with the Turkish Empire. Its representative at the Turkish court at Constantinople was also given diplomatic authority as English ambassador. Subsequently, consulates, manned by representatives of the company, were appointed at strategic trading posts throughout the western Turkish Empire, including Aleppo, Algiers, Cairo, Chios, Patras, Salonika, Smyrna, Tunis and Zante.

By the second half of the eighteenth century, the Levant Company was in financial difficulties and could no longer afford to maintain the ambassador and consuls without government subsidy. In 1804, the Foreign Office took over full responsibility for the British embassy at Constantinople and the company appointed its own consul general to look after its commercial interests.

The consuls had enforced the ordinances of the company throughout the Levant, levied consulage on imports and exports, maintained law and order, adjudicated disputes, administered the estates of Englishmen who died abroad and exercised control over the factors who were the local representatives of merchants based in London. Large factories, such as Aleppo, also appointed a salaried treasurer and a chancellor, who recorded all the official business of the factory and registered all acts, contracts and wills made by the factors.

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